In this article I examine the performances of black girlhood in two texts by Ntozake Shange—the choreopoem “for colored girls who have considered suicide when the rainbow is enuf” (1977) and the novel Sassafras, Cypress and Indigo (1982). The black girls whom Shange portrays navigate anti-black racism in their communities, domestic violence in their homes, and explore their connections with spirit worlds. In both these works, Shange stages black girls who make decisions based on their understanding of the spheres of influence that their race, gender, and age afford them in an anti-black patriarchal world dominated by adults. I draw, too, from Patricia Hill Collins’s work on feminist standpoint theory and black feminist thought to introduce the term black girl thought as a theoretical framework to offer insights into the complex lives of black girls who live in the post-civil rights era in the United States.
Gaunt, Kyra D. 2006. The Games Black Girls Play: Learning the Ropes From Double-Dutch to Hip hop. New York: NY University Press.
Nazera Sadiq Wright. 2016. Black Girlhood in the Nineteenth Century. Urbana, University of Illinois Press.
Black girls have a history of resilience. Nazera Sadiq Wright, in Black Girlhood in the Nineteenth Century (2016), analyzes accounts of the experiences of black girls from what she refers to as “youthful” girlhood to the conscious or “prematurely knowing” (44) age of 18. Setting out to recover overlooked accounts of black girlhood during the nineteenth century, a tumultuous epoch of transition for the black community, Wright uses contemporaneous literary and visual texts such as black newspapers, novels, poetry, and journals to reconstruct this lost narrative. By engaging in a close reading of these texts, in which black people, emerging from slavery, communicated with each other about personal and community goals, Wright examines the ways in which the instruction of black girls operated in between the lines of literature to convey codes of conduct to the black community. She argues that with the emergence of literature written by and for black women, the role of the black girl morphed from docile homemaker to resilient heroine for herself and her people. In discussing this more complex role, Wright does not deny that black girls were vulnerable to multiple forms of violence and hurt, but does point to a more nuanced experience. Black Girlhood in the Nineteenth Century is an intervention into the African American literary canon, filling in many of the gaps in the lost history of black girlhood, making it an essential text for those “who care” (22) about black girls as they engage in the process of rewriting and redeeming the narratives of an often-forgotten population.
Sarah E. Whitney
In this article, I consider middle-grade tween literature through a Black Girl Magic framework that creates space and visibility for girls of color in postfeminist America. I read two works of fiction by middle-grade author Sherri Winston through such a lens. By locating girls’ tweenhood as a space of developmental continuity, and by claiming an aesthetic of sparkle, Black Girl Magic readings can re-situate dominant interpretations of the tween literary hero and provide exciting new methods for reading middle-grade fiction.
Doll play is critical in the formation of young black girls’ gender, race, and class identities. In this article, I use textual analysis that emphasizes how physical changes in dolls correspond to contextual shifts in society over the last seven decades, and qualitative research with ten Afro-Caribbean girls and young women in Toronto to reveal the racial and cultural meanings of dolls in young people’s everyday lives and how doll play is complicated by racist and classist representations of dolls. By exploring what doll play meant to them, I show how it helps black girls understand racial and gendered norms. Through doll play, girls reveal an understanding of their racialized identities and marginalization as they demonstrate unacknowledged skills in their ability to navigate barriers that reinforce racial inequalities and social hierarchies in girls’ material culture in a multicultural Toronto.
Realities of Black Girlhood in a Settler State
Kandice A. Sumner
In this article I examine my lived experience as a Black girl in a white settler state using an autoethnographic approach within the framework of critical race and feminist theory to unpack the deleteriousness of existing as a Black female in a white educational settler state. Drawing on my doctoral research, I conclude that greater attention, in terms of theory and praxis as well as compassion, needs to be applied to the educational journeys of Black girls in white settler states, particularly in predominantly white schools.
Narratives of Four Jamaican Girls’ Identity and Academic Success
Rowena Linton and Lorna McLean
Black females achieve high standards of success yet their lived experiences are frequently absent from educational literature in Canada. This article documents the navigational strategies adopted by four Jamaican-Canadian girls to achieve academic success and discusses how they conceptualized their identity and the role(s) their identity played in their schooling experiences. In contrast to the deficiencies that are often highlighted in studies on the schooling experiences of black students, we draw on critical theories to shed light on the positive aspects of these black females’ schooling experiences. Such an approach disrupts negative views of black students as lagging behind in education and provides examples for other students on how to excel in the face of educational barriers. These narratives provide education policy makers with current perspectives on how students struggle to overcome obstacles to achieve academic success in a system that promises to be accessible to all students.
Girls Cultivating Disruption
Crystal Leigh Endsley
There are increasing demands that scholars of girlhood studies pay attention to the ways in which girls of color challenge the powerful discourses that work to constrain them. I take up this call to action through an analysis of the spoken word poetry of black, brown, and mixed-race high school girls in New Orleans, Louisiana. I discuss varying levels of consciousness about these discourses as represented in the poems of three girls aged 14, 15, and 16 that offer nuanced entry into the ambiguous process of their developing identities. I link instances of disruption highlighted through their poetry to aspects of their day-to-day experience to present a theoretical intervention that I call cultivated disruption that points to the ways in which girls of color are already practicing poetry as pleasurable and creative survival.
Field Notes as First Responder Witness Accounts
I position critical ethnographic researcher field notes as an opportunity to document the physical and ideological violence that white settler states and institutions on the school-prison nexus inflict on the lives of girls of color generally and Black girls specifically. By drawing on my own field notes, I argue that critical social science researchers have an ethical duty to move their inquiries beyond conventions of settler colonial empirical science when they are wanting to create knowledges that transcend traditions of body counts and classification systems of human lives. As first responders to the social emergencies in girls’ lives, researchers can make palpable spatialization of institutionalized forms of settler epistemologies to convey more girl-centered ways of speaking against quantifiable hierarchies of human life.
The concerns addressed by the authors in this issue point to the need for a reimagining of girlhood as it is currently framed by settler and carceral states. To quote the guest editors, Sandrina de Finney, Patricia Krueger-Henney, and Lena Palacios, “The very notions of girl and girlhood are embedded in a colonial privileging of white, cis-heteropatriarchal, ableist constructs of femininity bolstered by Euro-Western theories of normative child development that were—and still are—violently imposed on othered, non-white girls, queer, and gender-nonconforming bodies.” Indigenous-led initiatives in Canada, such as the Networks for Change: Girl-led ‘from the Ground up’ Policy-making to Address Sexual Violence in Canada and South Africa project, highlighted in four of the eight articles in this issue, along with the insights and recommendations offered in the articles that deal with the various positionalities and contexts of Latinx and Black girls, can be described as creating a new trail. In using the term trail, here, I am guided by the voices of the Indigenous researchers, activists, elders, and community scholars who participated in the conference called More Than Words in Addressing Sexual and Gender-based Violence: A Dialogue on the Impact of Indigenous-focused, Youthled Engagement Through the Arts on Families and Communities held in Montreal. Their use of the term trail suggests a new order, one that is balanced between the ancestors and spiritual teachings on the one hand, and contemporary spaces that need to be decolonized on the other with this initiative being guided by intergenerationality and a constant interrogation of language. The guest editors of this special issue and all the contributors have gone a long way on this newly named trail.